Walking into the Madrid airport began one of the exhilarating experiences of my existence, despite the fact that the trip had barely begun. Maybe it was the elegant wooden arches, the spurts of red, orange and yellow throughout the airport, or just the exhaustion of staying up for two days that cemented the excitement that Spain would encompass a culture and very different than our own. Everyone was eager to explore.
Our tour began bright and early at 6:30 AM on a Sunday, well before any sane Spaniard was awake. We hopped onto our tour bus and slept the ninety minutes it took to arrive in Toledo. Immediately, our entire tour group was immersed in the beautiful city on a hill, snapping photographs of its picturesque brownstone buildings and desperately conversing with the locals for a postcard as much as a disposable camera. Our tour guide, after frantically collecting us together, introduced us to our tour guide, Manuel. After a quick introduction, Manuel told us, “Imagine EspaÃ±a, not as a site of history, but as one of current progression.”
Of course, all of us tourists were confused at the statement. How could we possibly ignore all of the historical culture we came to see and, “explore,” the same old modern conveniences that we find in our everyday lives? However, as we traveled from Toledo to Granada and from Granada to Seville it seemed that this was the trademark of every tour guide we visited, selling this idea of coming to Spain to eat at McDonalds instead of visiting the grand Alhambra, with its ornate Arabic details.
However, being Americans, my tour group had completely over examined the idea behind Manuel’s statement. We finally came to our senses one day after visiting the trademark of the Spanish, the bullfighting ring. As we toured the majestic golden building gently worn from thousands of grizzly slaughters, the group came upon a janitor scrubbing the walls of the ring of any blood left behind. It turned out that this squat little man with a chin desperate to be shaved was a friend with our tour guide, Alicia. “Mi amigo,” she started, “¿por que elegir a trabajar aquÃ que en cualquier otro sitio? Why do you choose to work here as opposed to anywhere else?” The man’s answer, in slightly broken English, intrigued us all: “In order to preserve the history and keep the spirit of my country alive. This is why I work.”
Instantaneously, the consistency of the idea penetrated our heads and became the theme of our vacation. It was not the buildings themselves as to why we came, but the people who dedicated their lives to keep the history of their country alive. As we passed through Lisbon and eventually through Salamanca, the locals became more than people in the set of gorgeous cities, but the directors and the producers which kept their cities as the jewels they were intended to be. The joys of trying the squid in saffron oil at the local tapas bar eventually turned into the excitement of meeting the local tapas owner and speaking, in broken Spanish, about his family and the history of the restaurant purchased ages ago. Although our adventurous meal wasn’t well digested by everyone, the stories of the owner’s trips to Barcelona with his grandmother were enjoyed. Our tour ended where it had started: the Madrid airport. However, our opinions of Spain had definitely changed. It was not a country of flamencos and bullfights; rather, it was a country of hope, optimism, and preservation for future generations.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.